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Teens and Research: Should We Enroll Adolescents in Trials of Deep Brain Stimulation for Anorexia Nervosa?


On seeing promising results in a small number of patients, some researchers are conducting trials to determine whether deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN). This article asks whether we should open enrollment in trials of DBS for AN to adolescents. Despite concerns about informed consent, parental consent, and unforeseeable psychological sequelae, the article concludes that the risks to anorexic adolescents associated with participation in trials of DBS are reasonable considering the substantial risks of not enrolling teens with AN in research on DBS. The seriousness of AN, its high incidence in teens, and serious shortfalls in the AN treatment literature point to the need for improved, evidence-based treatments for teens with AN. This unmet need generates an obligation on the part of researchers and physicians to promote and conduct research on AN in adolescents.

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The author would like to thank Rosamond Rhodes for critical feedback on a previous draft of this paper, as well as audiences at Brain Matters! Scottsdale, the 2015 Annual Meeting of the International Neuroethics Society, the City College of New York Philosophy Department, and NYU’s Division of Medical Ethics. Some ideas in this paper were initially published in a short post on Emory University’s Neuroethics Blog, though none of the language from that post remains.

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